COVID-19 Exacerbates Housing Instability in African Americans
In March 2020, COVID-19 was declared by the World Health Organization to be a pandemic. Workplaces started shutting down. Local and state governments curtailed activities and instituted closures of retail, restaurants, schools, government offices, places of leisure and more. This has caused a lot of people who already had housing instability to be in a dire situation.
One Woman's Story
By April 2020, one woman was out of work and $1,000 behind in her rent. In May, she was $2,000 behind. As a single mother, she sought help from community groups so that she wouldn't be evicted. However, she fell behind on rent again. She wasn't able to look for a new job because her 8- and 10-year-old sons were attending school on a remote basis. At one point, she owed $4,500 in back rent.
Where She Is Now
As of late February 2021, this woman is now $1,700 behind in rent. She's trying to get out of the hole, but it's hard. In a report by the Atlanta Journal Constitution on February 27, it's difficult for African Americans to keep roofs over their heads. Jim Crow-era discriminatory housing policies and low wages make it a challenge to find a place and pay the rent.
COVID-19 Worsens Housing Instability for African Americans
Recent research on housing instability has found that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the plight of African Americans. They're already less likely than whites to own their homes. About 47% of African Americans are homeowners, compared to 70% of whites.
Since the pandemic began, African Americans have been more likely to lose their jobs. They represent a disproportionate number of frontline workers. The unemployment rate for African Americans is 9.2%. For whites, it's 5.7%. Black women have had the biggest share of housing insecurity. COVID-19 just exposed the problems that already existed, and to some extent, the pandemic made them worse.
Difficulty Obtaining Unemployment Compensation
Although the CARES Act included an increase in unemployment compensation, a lot of people had a hard time trying to get the money. Millions who qualified were never able to get the funds. More recently, widespread fraud has taken over unemployment claims. People are getting mail about claims filed in their name or even against them, when they don't own a business. These fraudulent claims can affect tax refunds, too. If a person was hoping to use their federal income tax refund to catch up on rent or mortgage payments, identity thieves who claimed unemployment in their names may have also already filed taxes and claimed the person's refund.
Private Housing Funding Is Helping Some
Some people have been able to get private funding to help pay their rent. However when the philanthropic funds and CARES Act funds dry up, the problems will still be there. Low-wage jobs will still make it difficult to pay the bills. If a person ends up with an eviction in their history, it will be even more difficult to find a safe, affordable place to live or to get a mortgage loan. An eviction can follow a renter or prospective home buyer for as long as a bankruptcy. Even an eviction filing is detrimental.
This Wasn't Supposed to Happen
The 1968 Fair Housing Act banned discrimination in housing based on a person's or family's race, religion, national origin and gender. However, it didn't have the intended results. Homes in mostly black neighborhoods are priced 23% lower than comparable homes in majority white neighborhoods. One in five black women will deal with eviction in their lifetime, compared to one in 15 white women. Suburbanization makes it hard to afford safe housing in many metropolitan areas.
Eviction Moratorium Delayed the Inevitable
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is located in Atlanta, placed a moratorium on evictions, and it lasted through the end of 2020. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic existed, Atlanta had a high rate of eviction. A lot of people were stuck in a cycle of being behind on rent, then the eviction would be filed by the landlord. The tenant would pay the eviction fees. However, the fees plus back rent would be so high that the resident would get further behind each month. African Americans have higher rates of chronic disease, which makes some jobs more difficult to do and increases their risk of serious COVID-19 complications. People with chronic health problems also have higher housing insecurity.
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